Ideals, Tips, and Dogs

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The recent blog template update seems to have brought with it a small pile of questions. Time to dispose of some more of the backlog...


Dear Uncle Gus,

When you discovered Ayn Rand and started talking about her philosophy, did people label you as an "idealist"? It's happening to me. I feel like that's their "subtle" way of telling me that the world is crap and I'd better get used to it .

What is an idealist, anyway?



Dear Josef,

Since I discovered Objectivism while I was attending a religious college, I managed to escape being charged with "idealism." Instead, I got slammed, when I did, for being an atheist and for being selfish.

I'll address two aspects of what may be going on in your case: the slamming itself and the specific accusation.

When someone acquires new knowledge of any kind, a natural impulse is to share it with as many people as possible. The urge is normal, but some people overdo it and some people react to it badly. This happens to some new Objectivists, but it is hardly unique to new Objectivists.

We all know, for example, a [fill in a computer operating system here] fan-boy who touts its virtues to the point that it seems like it's all he ever talks about. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it does annoy some people. I know this, because I have found myself, at different times and on different issues over the years, on each side of that particular fence -- and, no, I haven't always handled it gracefully.

I don't know whether the above might describe your situation, but if you're catching flak all the time, the subtle message may simply be, "Can we please talk about something else for a while?" You may well want to be more selective about when you bring up your philosophy.

As for "idealism," what else that might mean depends on too much context for me to be able to do anything but throw out a few other possibilities. Many people wrongly see theory and practice as unrelated and, yes, have given up on the whole idea of understanding the world, as you hypothesize. (And, in those cases, since misery loves company, ...) Others are suspicious of any philosophy since every other philosophy they have ever encountered is hogwash. (Rand, though not using the term "hogwash," has noted this problem.) Others may be reacting badly to being challenged on issues they have strong opinions about.

Having said all that, it is clear that the word, "idealist" has many uses. Indeed it has multiple definitions, including:
a person who cherishes or pursues high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.
You are an idealist in this sense, and that is a very good thing. Keep that alive.

Strange world, isn't it, where a word frequently used as an insult is actually a compliment?


Dear Uncle Gus,

Is it true, as Myrhaf says, that you are anti-tipping? If so, can you explain your stance?


The Reluctant Tipper

Dear Reluctant,

In "Dear Uncle Gus Jeopardy," you get bonus points for stating the question with a salutation and a closing. Well done!

Let me state for the record that, as tipping is an established rule of etiquette, I abide by that rule and am actually a good tipper.

That said, I don't like the rule for the reasons that Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) has laid out.


Dear Uncle Gus,

Recently, a friend of mine from Barcelona was telling me that the government in that region of Spain is banning bull fighting because the majority of Catalonians believe it is inhumane. What should be the proper role of government in this (e.g., regarding dogfights in the U.S.)?


Juan Belmonte

Dear Juan,

The proper role of government is the protection of individual rights, which only rational animals (i.e., human beings) possess. As inhumane as bull fighting and dog fighting are, bulls and dogs are property, which their owners may dispose of as they see fit, so long as they do not violate the rights of others in the process. Dog fighting, however barbaric, should be perfectly legal. Bull fighting, too, I am inclined to think, although I could see an argument against that, based on the danger it poses to the matador.

Neither majority opinion nor a laudable revulsion at how certain animal owners behave should be permitted to trump protection of the individual in the legal system of a nation.

-- CAV

If you'd like to ask a question, just type it into the box at the upper right labeled, "Ask Uncle Gus."


: Added hypertext anchors.


Jennifer Snow said...

I don't think the government should be outlawing things on the basis that they're dangerous, either, since, you know, risk is inherent in life and EVERYTHING poses SOME kind of danger to SOMEONE.

The best way to limit or eliminate this sort of thing is to let it become unprofitable by making the participants bear full responsibility for the costs of their actions. What insurance company would voluntarily cover a matador? (And what kind of price would they charge if they did?!) This would mean you'd need a much larger purse to make the "sport" attractive, which would mean you'd need to draw larger crowds to be able to afford it, and if most people really do think it's inhumane, there's a limit on how large a crowd you can draw with this kind of event.

This sort of thing is generally self-marginalizing in a free society unless it's actually not that dangerous or this "majority" claim is full of crap.

Gus Van Horn said...


I completely agree that risk would be the wrong basis to ban bullfighting, but that's not what occurred to me as I was writing.

Instead, I thought of dueling, which is (and should be) illegal. I am not a lawyer and do not actually know the explicit rationale for such a ban, but setting aside the fact that no one has a right to kill someone else, it's easy enough to imagine things (like somebody claiming that what was actually a murder was "only" a dueling death) that could arise in such a scenario to show that lifting the ban would endanger individual rights.

If bullfighting were legal, it would have to be like legalized euthanasia, in that it could be done only under very open and unambiguous circumstances, in which there could be no doubt that the matador accepted the mortal danger posed by the angry bull.

Now that I have considered it further, I'm with you.


Katrina said...

Dueling should be illegal? I'm skeptical. If you can give someone permission to kill you in the form of euthanasia, why can't you give that same permission in the form of a duel? The argument about difficult laws is silly; it's the same thing claimed about polygamy. All you have to do is make laws about how dueling contracts are notarized in order to protect against murder charges. Without such notarization, it is murder. Easy.

Bullfighting wouldn't have the issues of euthanasia at all as it is a spectator sport performed in front of hundreds of people. If someone was found dead in someone else's bull pasture, it would be suspicious regardless of the legality of bull fighting. Nothing here is more difficult to deal with than the dangers of NASCAR or any other sport. Bullfighting is actually not very dangerous at all, much safer than bull riding which is done all the time.

I'm sure a life or medical insurance policy on a matador would be costly, but no more so than for any rodeo participant, and rodeos have not been driven off the market. Also the organizer of the bullfight need not bear the cost of that policy. They would have pretty high workers' compensation costs, but in a free market you would most likely draw up specific contracts that would limit the liability to negligence. I work in insurance and far more dangerous and costly things than bullfighting are insured with no difficulty every day.

I intensely dislike applying the term "inhumane" to treatment of animals. It's beyond ridiculous to me, but that's a rather long conversation so I will leave that aside. I certainly agree that bullfighting is immoral. I don't think observing an animal's slow death is a legitimate value at all, and the fact is that that's all bullfighting is. Dog fighting may be different. The fighting ability of a dog is a legitimate value for breeding purposes, and real fights are interesting to watch, unlike the rigged spectacle of bullfighting. A human fight that ends in death would be horrific, but with an animal it doesn't matter in the same way. But a dog fight where the loser isn't necessarily killed but loses by some standard (as in human fighting) would be much more valid and enjoyable to me.

I have never seen a dog fight and might well find it revolting, but I still wouldn't call it immoral until I knew it was about nothing but watching an animal die.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Dueling should be illegal? I'm skeptical. If you can give someone permission to kill you in the form of euthanasia, why can't you give that same permission in the form of a duel? ... Easy

Not so easy.

For one thing, in euthanasia, you want to die. In a duel, you do not. So, such an agreement would basically set the legal precedent that men could sign away their (inalienable) rights for a time. That contradicts the very idea of a proper government.

By that argument, why not allow debtors to sign away their rights to become slaves in exchange for, say, having their family supported by their masters? You've already accepted the premise that, under certain conditions that in no way resemble suicide, people can legally kill each other.

Assisted suicide differs in essence from a duel, because the whole purpose is to assist someone in doing something he intends to do. All a legalized duel, on the other hand, does, is permit one man to kill another.

Dueling is a government "revocation" (however temporary) of the rights of a person that it absolutely should not be able to effect.

Jennifer Snow said...

That's exactly what I think, Gus. You can't waive your rights. You cannot consent to being *deprived* of your rights.

And, personally, I don't think it should be legal to "euthanize" a human being, which is not the same thing as assisting them to commit suicide. When you euthanize a DOG, you're not assisting it in carrying out a choice it's made voluntarily. You are making the choice FOR the dog, and this is precisely what it shouldn't be proper to do for a human being in, say, the absence of a living will or someone with the proper legal authority to make that kind of decision.

Disconnecting someone from artificial life support is not the same thing in the same way as not saving someone's life isn't the same as murdering them, so the standard for existence of a living will or consent should be slightly lower than for, say, intentionally giving someone an overdose of painkillers.

Besides if someone is actually suffering this generally means that they're aware enough to make some kind of decision.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for that comment. I really did mean "assisted suicide" when I said "euthanasia."

Thanks, once again for the back-up.

mo said...

so assisted suicide by say giving someone an overdose of painkillers is not illegal but "euthanasia" is.

Gus Van Horn said...

The difference between the two is that in assisted suicide, the patient has made it clear he wants to die, whereas in euthanasia, he has not.

mo said...

interesting description. I will keep that in mind next time thx. I always thought the two were the same.

Gus Van Horn said...

I am pretty sure I have heard assisted suicide called euthanasia, before, but the former term is better as it remains better focused on the individual's right to his own life.

Katrina Redelsheimer said...

I have heard those explanations for why dueling shouldn't be legal before, and I agree it is the same as the slavery question. However I have yet to be convinced that selling yourself into slavery should be illegal either. The many arguments I've heard seem insufficient to me, but I don't have a fool-proof argument that it should be legal so I'll just have to keep puzzling that one out. But I do agree that if the one is true, the other is.

Thanks for clarifying the difference between euthanasia and suicide, Jennifer. Using the two as synonyms makes suicide seem the same as murder, which is not my intent at all.

Gus Van Horn said...


I'll go ahead and try again. If the purpose of a government is to protect rights, and it is formed by the delegation of one's right to self-defense for that purpose, making it able to enforce the very negation of those rights (e.g., by a slavery or dueling "contract") contradicts that very purpose.